by Christopher Roberts
“I’ve always said that if I win the lottery, the first thing I’ll buy will be a replica 1989 Batmobile to go with the screen-accurate replica Bat suit I’ve made for my charity work.”Steven Braund
Hi readers and members of the EFC, I hope you are enjoying the summer and haven’t let the heat stop you from working on whatever project you’ve got going on.
It’s been a while, but with some new and exciting things happening (thanks to EFC) it’s hard to balance everything. However, I am back now with Essex’s skilful props and mask designer Steve Braund. Steve founded ‘Magic Minds’ – www.mindmagicstudios.com, a company specifying in crafting costumes, props and masks for film, tv and personal use. His most recent project, was the local Horror comedy Man-Fish, where he was tasked with making the film’s title character. Man-Fish can now be found on Sky Movies. So once again – please enjoy and I’ll hand over to Steve to let him talk about one of DCs greatest crime fighters.
My all-time favourite film? That’s tough. I could go for three: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II – The Wrath Of Khan, but I’m going for Tim Burton’s 1989 masterpiece, Batman. Why? Of the many reasons, let’s start with the cast:
Although Keaton’s casting was initially met with outrage from the fans, I think it’s fair to say he is the most popular Batman of all time. For my money, he is the only actor to get the fact that ‘Bruce Wayne’ is, in fact, the disguise. The slightly bumbling affection he puts on when playing ‘Bruce’ is perfect, as is his less-is-more approach to playing ‘The Bat’. In fact, he lobbied the studios for fewer lines in the film, and he was right. Jack Nicholson’s ‘Joker’ has become the stuff of cinema legend. He flips effortlessly from mirth to malice in a way no other could or has since. He delivers an absolute masterclass. The rest of the cast, especially Michael Gough with this loving, almost grandfatherly take on ‘Alfred’, deliver strong performances throughout.
Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance as ‘The Joker’
Then there’s the production design and that stunning set built on the Pinewood backlot. Antone Furst and Terry Ackland-Snow’s work here looks as incredible now as it did in 1989. The huge, timeless sprawling design of ‘Gotham’, with its gothic and art deco influences is a character on its own in this film. And that car, To quote ‘Jim Gordon’, “Oh….My….God. What a machine!” It’s perfect, right from the huge Jet intake (from a Vulcan bomber) down to those round taillights (from a Ferrari). It’s sex on wheels. I’ve always said that if I win the lottery, the first thing I’ll buy will be a replica 1989 Batmobile to go with the screen-accurate replica Bat suit I’ve made for my charity work.
Speaking of Bat suits, this one was a game-changer for the industry. Burton and legendary costume designer Bob Ringwood knew that the camp 60’s lycra was a no-go for this darker, grittier superhero. ‘Batman’s’ bat suit was instead, for the first time, cast in black foam latex from head to foot. Well, almost. The bat boots were made by Nike, which was a hugely popular choice with both Keaton and his stunt doubles for their comfort. The cape was latex layered over wool of various thicknesses depending on the requirements of each scene. Some, such as those worn by ‘Ballet Bat’ Carl Newman, were lighter to enable the swooshy cape scenes. The thicker ones gave the cape weight when he moved. Keaton’s foam latex cowl gave rise to the now famous ‘Bat turn’ because he couldn’t move his head, which is something that I hope they carry forward to his much-anticipated return in The Flash. Combing these ingredients and adding a big pinch of Danny Elfman’s goosebump-inducing score creates a movie that takes me back to being an overexcited teenager seeing it for the first time in 1989, every time. Long live the Bat!
Now, I love all film genres: Whether it’s Horror, Action, Sci-Fi or even a Musical – I’ll watch it. But there’s one genre out there for me that I enjoy most, one that, no matter the format, I always give it a go – superhero movies.
There are many reasons why I relish this genre above all others: The costumes, the fight scenes and the simple story of good vs evil, but when it comes down to it, the main reason is that I’m just a massive comic book geek. For years I spent my spare time reading graphic novels, filling my head with comic book lore and evening cosplaying as my favourite characters. I can’t tell you much about ‘The Battle of Hastings’, but I can tell you who would win in a fight between ‘The Hulk’ and ‘The Thing’. But one comic book character stood out from the rest of them and he’s one that I was obsessed with – ‘The Batman’.
Growing up, ‘Batman’ was everywhere; I read the comic books, watched the cartoons, played the video games and watched all his films. ‘Gotham’s’ vigilante was everywhere and is one of Warners Brothers’ most popular IP’s and not surprisingly: When ‘Batman’ first graced our screens, he was different from other superheroes – A complex crime fighter with no powers, only relying on his wit and gadgets, yet still standing tall next to demi-gods and beings from other worlds. Then you have his villains – a diverse gallery of rogues filled with criminals that challenge him, both mentally and physically.
Batman issue #444 – circa 1989
All of this makes for entertaining stories that enthral the readers and when you turn those stories into films, you get an audience. They’re just waiting to watch ‘Batman’ go up against their favourite villain. But this wasn’t always the case: Before you had Justice League and DCU (where every superhero movie had to be somehow connected to each other, leading up to some climactic team-up) superhero movies were a rare thing and doing a film based on a comic book was considered a risk. And it wasn’t till Batman (1989) that things started to change.
As Steve mentioned, it was risky to cast a comedian like Michael Keaton for the role of ‘Batman’, but you’ve got to understand how big of a risk Warner Bros took making this movie. The first live adaptation of ‘The Dark Knight’ since the 1966 tv show – A TV show that only lasted two seasons before being cancelled, when he was a friendly, camp, crime-fighter and not the grim, stoic, vigilante we have today.
They also went with the young up-and-coming director at the time, Tim Burton, a surprising choice, mainly thanks to his box office success Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. This would be his first-ever blockbuster with a budget 7 times more than what he had for Pee Wee, And then, finally, Tim Burton decided to cast his Beatle Juice star Micheal Keaton as ‘Batman’, a move that left fans of Batman outraged. Yet, despite the anger and lack of faith, it paid off.
Bob Ringwood’s ‘Batsuit’ and Tim burton’s ‘Gotham’
Thanks to Burton’s love of Gothic themes and misunderstood outcasts, we were given a film and character as dark and brooding as the comic books which made the characters so famous in the first place. Michael Keaton’s performance was a huge revelation and an inspiration to future actors who took on the role, especially with how he altered his voice with a lower register when he played ‘Batman’, a technique used in future portrayals – most notably Kevin Conroy and Christian Bale. I think this really shows the impact this film had, not just on the audience, but for future filmmakers and actors who tried their hand at bringing ‘The Dark Knight’ to life.
Despite Warner Bro’s risk, it was worth it. So worth it in fact, that even after 30 years and after 5 different actors playing the role of ‘Batman’, Michael Keaton returns, donning the cowl and cape in the new Flash movie and is still seen as the one true cape crusader.
My favourite fact
Another well-known actor who starred in ‘Batman’ was Billy Dee Williams, playing District Attorney ‘Harvey Dent’, with hopes to play his alter ego ‘Two-Face’ in a future film. This dream was sadly short-lived after Joel Schumacher took over and recast the role with Tommy Lee Jones. However in the end Billy Dee Williams got his wish as he cameoed in the Lego Batman movies as the scarred criminal.
Chris Roberts is writer, horror enthusiast and self-claimed film trivia expert. Having worked on several projects as Production Assistant and Boom Mic Operator across Essex, Chris is now currently writing and planning his first short film.
Steve Braund is the founder of ‘Mind Magic Studios’ specialising in silicone masks, costumes, and props. With a remarkable eye for detail and craftsmanship, Steve has earned a stellar reputation for his hyper-realistic designs in films, including his latest release Man-Fish and his upcoming projects Members Club and Fluxx. Showcasing his unwavering passion for bringing magic to life through his exceptional creations.
please visit – www.mindmagicstudios.com for more info